Photo: Mecca Normal and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin).

In 2023, my graphic novel (created with Marcus Rediker and Paul Buhle), UNDER THE BANNER OF KING DEATH: Pirates of the Atlantic (Beacon Press) was published. It tells the tale of how working sailors’ experience of violence and labor exploitation on the high seas would predispose them to become pirates. The art is rendered in glorious black and white watercolour, with a touch of film noir meets the 18th century.

My TOP 30 Totally Self-referential Moments of 2022

Looking over my “self-referential” list for this year, I’m reminded of how important collaborators are to a life lived, whether it is friends, individuals, musicians, artists, writers, editors, record labels, publishers, festivals, activists, magazines, radio shows, symposiums, or conferences.

1. Completing the art/text for Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, a graphic novel with Marcus Rediker and Paul Buhle (out Feb. 2023 on Beacon Press).

2. Reviewing the graphic novel We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration in Fifth Estate Magazine.

3. Creating four book trailers for Ronsdale Press.

4. Designing the cover and interior of Susan C. Boyd‘s HEROIN: An Illustrated History (Fernwood Publishing). The book is a damning portrait of the longstanding harms of drug criminalization in Canada.

5. Completing further research on my graphic novel on the last year in the life of Emma Goldman.

6. My instrumental guitar/bass duo Horde of Two with Wendy Atkinson released “I Knew I Was A Rebel Then” (Shrimper Records) featuring a 20-minute track on the anti-fascist, revolutionary Durruti (with a 42-page chapbook published by Bamboo Dart Press.

7. Carrying on the long-running Mecca Normal collaboration with Jean Smith in our column for MAGNET Magazine. Another year, another 52 weeks of art/text!!!!

8. Designing a chapbook for Vancouver Eastside activists (DULF and VANDU, two groups that advocate to improve the lives of people who use drugs through user-based peer support and education).

9. Making a book trailer for Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, a graphic novel.

10. Discovering that Mecca Normal has over a quarter-million plays on Spotify.

11. Co-writing a graphic novel script with Marcus Rediker based on a chapter in his book The Many-Headed Hydra (with Peter Linebaugh). The story dives deep into a rebellion in New York in the 18th century.

12. Poster designs for Vancouver May Day; the Montreal International Anarchist Festival; and Norman Nawrocki’s theatre piece, Run Nawrocki Run.

13. Horde of Two‘s album featured on CBC Music’s “Songs You Need to Hear.”

14. Cover and interior design of Out of Hiding: Holocaust Literature of British Columbia (Ronsdale Press).

15. The exciting news that Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a graphic novel will be published in Italian (ShaKe Edizioni, Korean (Galmuri 지지원다 and by Verso Books in the UK.

16. Getting a folding bike and the life-affirming activity of cycling.

17. Kathleen Hanna‘s video on the influence of Mecca Normal for NPR series, The Spark, which asked the question “Who helped you understand that music could be a force for social change?” Kathleen Hanna: “I’m here to talk about Mecca Normal and how they made me feel like I could make political music without compromising writing great songs.”

18. Creating a short film of Horde of Two’s song on Durruti. The film premiered at the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (The Vancouver Comic Arts Festival.

19. Talking about research for a graphic novel on Emma Goldman to scholars at “A Symposium on Emma Goldman 82 Years After Her Death in Toronto” sponsored by the University of Toronto. “That was a tour de force presentation! The audience was absolutely riveted…” — Franca Iacovetta, Professor of History, UofT

20. Designing another four issues of literary newspaper, BC Bookworld.

21. An in-depth interview about Prophet Against Slavery with Am Johal on his excellent podcast, Below the Radar.

22. Mike Watt playing Horde of Two songs 5 times on his podcast!!

23. My last time as a guest on Sheryl MacKay’s North By NorthWest (CBC Radio) as she is leaving after 22 years of great work promoting artists and writers.

24. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of Mecca Normal‘s Dovetail album, featuring Throw Silver (Krecs).

25. Presenting Prophet Against Slavery (with Marcus Rediker) at a conference of Quaker historians on approaches to the study of Quaker history and culture using graphic novels. Dash Shaw (Discipline) also presented.

26. Fork in the road: My partner Wendy will take on a brave new challenge in 2023.

27. FUN FACTOR: Megan Kelso‘s post of panels from her 1993 comic “Girlhero”: “The girl talking to herself as she walks home, that’s a Mecca Normal lyric from a song called ‘I Walk Alone’ which made a big impression on young me. Mecca Normal was an art rock band of 2 from Canada. They were riveting to watch.” Megan’s latest comics collection is “Who Will Make the Pancakes?” (Fantagraphics).

28. Not getting Covid.

29. Friends Journal a Quaker magazine included a 5-page feature on my work illustrating “Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a graphic novel”

30. Paul Gravett legendary London-based comics’ journalist included “Under the Banner of King Death” in his list of TOP 23 GRAPHIC NOVELS, COMICS & MANGA: “Here are two dozen-or-so upcoming graphic novels well worth your attention, which you can pre-order now.”

Coming February. 7, 2023
, my upcoming graphic novel Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, an exhilarating tale of rebellion in the 18th century, as common sailors overthrow their oppressors and create, against all odds, a democratic and egalitarian social order— if only for a short time.

The book was co-written by myself and historian Marcus Rediker and edited by Paul Buhle. Published by Beacon Press with distro by Penguin/Random House.

Watch the book trailer HERE!

The book can be pre-ordered HERE!

2022: California’s Shrimper Records releases Horde of Two’s second instrumental album, titled I Knew I Was a Rebel Then. Horde of Two is David Lester (guitar) and Wendy Atkinson (bass). Concurrently, a 42-page book by Horde of Two is published by Bamboo Dart Press to accompany the release.

Kathleen Hanna made a video on Mecca Normal for the NPR series, The Spark, which answered the question “Who helped you understand that music could be a force for social change?” (2022)

Fun factor: Megan Kelso‘s post of panels from her 1993 comic “Girlhero”: “The girl talking to herself as she walks home, that’s a Mecca Normal lyric from a song called ‘I Walk Alone‘ which made a big impression on young me. Mecca Normal was an art rock band of 2 from Canada. They were riveting to watch.” Megan’s comics have been published in The New York Times Magazine. She edited an anthology of work by 23 female graphic novelists, and other great work.

Check out my review of WE HEREBY REFUSE: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration in Fifth Estate magazine. (2022)

2021: Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a graphic novel (Beacon Press) by David Lester with Marcus Rediker and Paul Buhle.

2021: Re-Release of Kill Rock Stars comp album — 30 years later — with Mecca Normal’s Narrow sandwiched between Unwound and Nirvana.

2021: Mecca Normal’s song In January is the soundtrack for Jocelyne Moreau‘s “White Death’ short film, about Tuberculosis. The film was an award winner at the New York International Women Festival.

2021: Presenting at the United Association for Labor Education (UALE) conference in Chicago on a panel with the Graphic History Collective, on “Transforming the World with Public Labour History.”

2021: Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone featured in a scene in the American teen drama thriller CRUEL SUMMER (Episode 5). The show was broadcast on Freeform and Hula. The previous episode of CR got 260,000 viewers.

2021: Five illustrations for Bill Stenson‘s short story collection “Half Brothers and Other Stories” (Mother Tongue Publishing).

2021: Zoom presentations to students at University of Toronto (on “1919”) and University of the Fraser Valley (how to make a graphic novel and employ stories as instruments of social good).

1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike was co-winner of the 2020 CAWLS Book Prize for the best book in Canadian work and labour studies published in 2019. The prize is awarded by the Canadian Association for Work & Labour Studies, Brock University (Ontario).

“The Committee felt that the graphic novel produced by the Graphic History Collective and David Lester offers labour scholars and teachers of labour history a rare gift: a vigorously-researched labour history combined with a visually stimulating graphic novel which will spark interest in Canadian labour history for decades to come. 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike tells the story of labour revolt that shook the foundations of Winnipeg, western Canada, and the whole country, becoming a touchstone event in Canadian labour history. The book is a clear example of community-inspired research, and the committee felt strongly that the project by the Graphic History Collective and David Lester makes an exceptional contribution to labour studies in Canada by inventively adopting a format which, while not conforming to the usual academic mode of exposition, has the capacity to circulate radical labour history to new audiences.”

My brother Ken Lester (May 5, 1949 – March 31, 2021) passed away peacefully from pre-existing conditions in Vancouver. Ken was a journalist, poet, punk band manager (D.O.A.), editor and 60s/70s/80s cultural activist.

Online now, a short CBC TV doc (9:31) on David Lester’s work as a graphic novelist. The film is directed by the fabulous Rami Katz, with cinematography by the excellent Devan Scott. Thanks to CBC Arts producer/artist, Lucius Dechausay who also contributes an article to go with the film.

2020: Pitchfork talked to artists about the music they loved at five-year interval points in their lives. Music critic/musician Franklin Bruno, included Mecca Normal‘s “Follow Down”, which was on the “Jarred Up” LP (a singles collection). Read HERE.

2020: Shrimper Records writes about Horde of Two‘s first album: “Horde of Two is a duo with Lester on the guitar and Wendy Atkinson on the bass. Is that a bass? Is that a cello? Is that an airplane? Their debut has that Mike Watt & Kira Roessler magic of improvisational swing even during quiet passages.”

David Lester zooms with a University of Toronto class, Power, Resistance, and the Graphic Novel, about the making of “1919”. Thanks to Professor Max Mishler for creating such a class, it was a thrill to be a part of it.

2020: 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg Strike is shortlisted for the George Ryga Prize for Social Awareness in Literature.

2020: Rolling Stone magazine feature on Riot Grrrl includes a playlist of 23 songs including Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone.

2020 documentary film on DAVID LESTER:
“In this video made by filmmaker Rami Katz, you’ll see David Lester take you through his intricate process of illustrating this notable protest and the challenge of depicting historic figures and events with contemporary urgency.” CBCArts

2019: The German language hard cover edition of 1919 was at the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Canada Council for the Arts booths. 1919 has also been published in French.

2019: Panel on “Documenting Resistance”, with Ben Passmore (Your Black Friend & Other Strangers), Gord Hill (The Antifa Comic), and Nate Powell (the March series) at VanCaf (Vancouver Comic Arts Festival).

2019: The New York Times lists Mecca Normal’s ‘I Walk Alone’ as an essential song in their article, “Riot Grrrl United Feminism and Punk. Here’s an Essential Listening Guide. 25 songs that fueled a rock revolution”.

2019: Mecca Normal’s song I Walk Alone is in 3 different scenes in episode 2 of season 3, of Better Things written and starring Pamela Adlon on the FX channel. The viewership was 353,000.

MY NEW BOOK PROJECT with Marcus Rediker and Paul Buhle:

Marcus Rediker: “I am thrilled to announce a new project, a forthcoming book entitled Prophet against Slavery, Benjamin Lay: A Graphic History, art and script by the brilliant Vancouver-based artist David Lester, with the assistance of graphic novel expert Paul Buhle and yours truly. This book about the radical eighteenth-century abolitionist will be published by Beacon Press in 2021 — thanks to Gayatri Patnaik. This is an exciting new way to bring back Benjamin Lay to us at a time when we need his courageous example!”

AUGUST 2019: I took a few days off from projects and enjoyed some down time just drawing in a raw traditional manner with my Staedtler 8B pencil. Here is the result, a little online exhibit I call Radicals Rendered in Pencil.

2019: Mecca Normal’s LIVE album (Montreal, 1996 with Peter Jefferies on drums) released by Artoffact Records (part of a CBC Brave New Waves series of releases).

2019: Art by David Lester from 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike was exhibited along with Seth and Jeff Lemire etc. as part of Architecture and Comics: Canadian Cartoonists and the City at the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation (WAF).

2019: David talks about “Illustrating Revolt: Making a Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike” as part of a panel with Graphic History Collective member’s Julia Smith, and Sean Carleton at the Winnipeg General Strike Centenary Conference (University of Winnipeg).

2019: David Lester and the Graphic History Collective take part in three panels at Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at UBC (Canadian Historical Association; Canadian Association for Work and Labour Studies; and the Society for Socialist Studies)

2019: Book launch and talk by the Graphic History Collective and David Lester at the Miners Memorial Weekend (Cumberland, B.C.). Also on exhibit is Lester’s 5 x 3’ mural depicting significant figures in Cumberland’s political and social history for a permanent exhibit called Coal, Conflict and Community at Cumberland Museum & Archives.

2019 PUBLICATION: 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg Strike
by the Graphic History Collective and David Lester ORDER HERE

2019 PUBLICATION: Direct Action Gets the Goods: A Graphic History of the Strike in Canada by the Graphic History Collective with Althea Balmes, Gord Hill, Orion Keresztesi, David Lester ORDER HERE

Here is a book trailer I made for “1919”

September 1, 2018: David completes a commission to illustrate a graphic novel called 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike to be published by Between The Lines in 2019. It is written by the Graphic History Collective.

Mecca Normal‘s LIVE album (Montreal, 1996 with Peter Jefferies on drums) will be released in 2019 by Artoffact Records (part of a CBC Brave New Waves series of releases).

2017: Challenging Stories: Canadian Literature for Social Justice in the Classroom (Canadian Scholars’ Press) features a chapter on teaching David’s The Listener to high school students. The chapter by Karen Jacobson demonstrates innovative ways of how The Listener was used to teach social justice issues to secondary school classes, stating “From the very first page, the book inspired thoughtful discussion about the place of social action in the students’ own lives.” Challenging Stories encourages both educators and their students to develop critical literacy skills and instill cultural sensitivity and social awareness.

2017: Writer/director Chrissy Loader’s short film The Listening Party premieres at the Nevada City Film Festival. The film features Mecca Normal’s Throw Silver and I Walk Alone on the soundtrack and was shot in Pleasanton, CA. The film will be part of the Scary Cow/San Francisco Co-op Film Festival on November 4 at the Castro. Synopsis: In early 1990s suburban California, a young woman tries to connect with her boyfriend, his bandmates, and their aging sound engineer as they smoke a bowl and listen to the group’s latest playbacks.

2017: In an interview with the Eugene Weekly about her latest band Filthy Friends (which includes a member of REM), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), reveals that a pivotal moment in her development as a musician came when seeing a show at the WOW Hall: “When I was in high school, it was Fugazi and Mecca Normal and Beat Happening. That show pretty much changed my life. Seeing those kinds of shows live can bring you into the realm of, ‘I really want to do that.’”

2017: The first live streaming of a Mecca Normal rehearsal in which we write a new song during the hour long broadcast (3,500 views).

2017: The premier of Jean’s 16 minute Mecca Normal film is shown on the 50′ screen at PopCon 2017 at the Museum of Popular Culture (Seattle) and introduced by Evelyn McDonnell (Associate Professor of Journalism and New Media at Loyola Marymount University in LA).

2017: Guitar World (New York) interviews Corin Tucker, Sleator-Kinney: What inspired you to first pick up a guitar? CORIN: “…when I went to college and saw other female musicians—bands like Bikini Kill and Mecca Normal—I was like, “Oh I wanna do that!” That’s when I really started trying to learn.”

2017: David represents the Graphic History Collective at the “Authors for Indies” event at People’s Co-op Bookstore (Vancouver), talking about Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle and revealing secrets of how to make a graphic novel.

2017: Mecca Normal perform at The Toast Collective (Vancouver) with Aye Nako (New York), Your Heart Breaks (Seattle) and Alimony (Vancouver).

2017: David’s Inspired Agitators posters are part of SFU’s SKETCHING IN PRACTICE, a two-day symposium that explores the construction of meanings through sketching. This year’s theme was: How does sketching lead to taking action in the world?

2017: Drawn To Change (with David’s The Battle of Ballantyne Pier) wins the $10,000 Wilson Prize for the best book that “succeeds in making Canadian historical scholarship accessible to a wide and transnational audience”. It is sponsored by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University.

2017: Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle! wins the Canadian Historical Association’s Public History Prize: The award “recognizes work that achieves high standards of original research, scholarship, and presentation; brings an innovative public history contribution to its audience; and serves as a model for future work, advancing the field of public history in Canada.”

“Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle is an excellent blend of high level scholarship, Labour History, and captivating art that shows how Public History can embrace different media in innovative ways.” — Public History Prize, Canadian Historical Association, founded in 1922

2017: A review of David Lester’s contribution to Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle in “Labour / Le Travail” by Candida Rifkind, Associate Professor (Comics and Graphic Narrative, U. of Winnipeg): “Lester employs similar techniques to those in his graphic novel, The Listener (Winnipeg: ARP, 2011), alternating between pen, acrylic, and watercolours to create evocative, expressionistic scenes interspersed with self-portraits as he recounts the story. The complex visuals and personal connection to the events make this one of the most affecting comics in the volume…”

2017: AUPE (Alberta Union of Public Employees) announce they will be integrating Drawn to Change (including The Battle of Ballantyne Pier) into their province-wide labour education materials.

David‘s Self-Referential Top 35 of 2016!

2016: Mecca Normal open for The Julie Ruin on their Pacific Northwest dates.

“When I was 15, I would listen to Mecca Normal’s “I Walk Alone” every day as I maneuvered the desolate and lonely 10 blocks between the bus stop and my house. This was the year I began to learn the intricacies of girlhood, soundtracked by riot grrrl bands, fresh to my previously pop-occupied ears. Jean Smith’s politicized lyrics and occasionally grating singing style created alluring discomfort—Mecca Normal empowered girls to be angry and critical. Their refusal to assimilate or soften their message makes them a truly foundational feminist punk group, and one whose voice is still desperately needed.” – Emma Burke (Portland Mercury) 2016

Pitchfork-punk-article2016:Mecca Normal’s Man Thinks Woman (1987) makes the cut with a great write-up by Douglas Wolk for Pitchfork‘s The Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs: From Patti Smith to Bikini Kill, the songs that have crushed stereotypes and steered progress:

“Mecca Normal break rules like they never noticed them in the first place. The Vancouver-based duo of singer Jean Smith and guitarist David Lester are anarchist-feminist activists and constant experimentalists, implying a rhythm section with negative space alone. Always an intense presence onstage, they’ve become the most tenacious of D.I.Y. road warriors, touring and recording for 32 years now. In the early ’90s, they popped up on most of the biggest American indie-rock labels (Sub Pop, K, Matador); by their 25th anniversary, they were on the road with a performance-and-lecture project called “How Art & Music Can Change the World.”

Smith’s lyrics often foreground her political perspective; their anthem “Man Thinks ‘Woman,’” released in 1987, started out as a barbed dissection of gender normativity: “Man thinks ‘woman’ when he talks to me/Something not quite right.” The song kept expanding its radius from there, encompassing both bitter poetics and a disarmingly funny account of a drunken makeout gone weird. Kathleen Hanna has cited Smith as an early inspiration: “When I saw her,” she told The Fader, “I was just like, that’s it. I’m done. I’m sold.”

Open-Road-montage-20162016: At Emily Carr University of Art + Design, David Lester introduces students to a time when design involved hot wax, knives, sizing wheels, rollers, Letraset, steel rulers, and lines were made with tape or drawn with a pen. The context was his experience in the collective that produced the international anti-authoritarian newspaper Open Road (1976-1990). The talk was part of a summer course called “Design Criticism, and Anarchy and Culture” taught by visiting Professor Jeffrey Swartz (University School of Design and Art of Barcelona).

2016: Here is Sheryl MacKay’s interview with me on CBC’s North by Northwest. We talked about my contribution to the anthology Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle. NXNW is the No.1 weekend radio program in B.C. The show focuses on arts and culture: 

2016: My 12-page graphic story The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is published in a book called Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between the Lines), an anthology of nine comics, each with a short preface by an academic or specialist on Canadian labour history and working-class struggles. The book was initiated by the Graphic History Collective. “This evocative collection of the struggles and achievements of labour organizing should inspire us to ‘dream of what might be’ and to act to bring it about.” – Noam Chomsky

2016: “The illustrations by Nicole Marie Burton are particularly impressive, though I equally love the narrative style of David Lester and the etching work of Tania Willard.” — Matthew Brett, Canadian Dimension magazine, 2016, review of Drawn To Change: Graphic Histories of Working Class Struggle

2016: David Lester cited at the BC Book Prizes by Alan Twigg, recipient of the 13th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence as one of 5 people who contributed to his life’s work as a writer (along with Jane Rule, George Woodcock, Tara Twigg and Howard White): “For the last 29 years David Lester and I have been doing BC BookWorld. I could not have done this be myself, and the fact that Dave has been with me as not just as a friend but his values are so high that he keeps me doing what I do and I don’t have anything clever here Dave I just thought I’d… people know who I am but I’d really like you to know who Dave is, so I’d just like you to stand up…”

My Totally Self-referential Top 21 of 2015:

 1. Mecca Normal playing at Horses Records in Vancouver as part of Record Store Day.

2. Hearing word via Jean Smith‘s literary agent that the editor at Coach House is reading her manuscript and Simon and Schuster and Picador also have her novel.

3. Finishing a 14-page section of my graphic novel in progress on the last year in the life of Emma Goldman.


Mecca Normal, Horses Records, Vancouver, 2015

4. A Los Angeles documentary filmmaker contacts Jean about making a film of her life!

5. My first graphic novel The Listener goes to #1 in Historical Fiction (Comics & Graphic Novels) on the bestseller list.

6. Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil is reviewed in BITCH Magazine: “A number of these elliptical yet detailed songs resonate both as metaphorical allusions and as intimate character sketches…”

7. My wife Wendy Atkinson releases her experimental solo bass album The Last Fret which I designed the cover and made two videos. The album reaches #3 at WNYU (New York).

8. Two favourite quotes from Jean Smith:

“I am extremely grateful for the incredible opportunities we’ve had with a myriad of fantastic people — from way back in the early 80s, right up to new people I’ve met this week — and the bands we’ve worked with along the way AND ESPECIALLY the labels who have forked out capital and included us in their doings for one reason or another.”

“Damn you, menial jobs with your underlying themes of exploitation and oppression that burden us with obligations that eat up our time and cause the discomfort and destruction of our bodies and minds no matter how palatably the emotional infrastructure is illuminated during initial proceedings!”

9. Visiting the private house in Toronto where Emma Goldman lived the last year of her life. An incredible experience to be standing in the very room one of history’s greatest orators lived and died.


Excerpt from my graphic novel in progress on Emma Goldman.

10. In the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil is listed at #472 out of 1,529 albums picked by critics. PopMatters lists the album as #400 (out of 1025 albums reviewed).

11. One of my cartoons is the cover of the 20th anniversary issue of Boston-based social justice magazine The Change Agent.

12. The many conversations with Jean Smith which are the life blood of a creative partnership.

13. My brother Ken Lester recovers from his stroke.

14. Radical British publisher, VERSO Books lists Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone on a night-time playlist for an aural education to London after dark as selected by novelist Matthew Beaumont and the Verso staff!

15. Learning that The Listener will be featured in a chapter called “Multimodal Perspectives on Teaching Canadian Literature for Social Justice” in a book to be published by Canadian Scholars Press in 2017.

16. Jessica Hopper’s impressive “The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic” contains her review of Mecca Normal’s The Observer.

17. Designing five posters for MayDay events in Vancouver with one of the posters reaching Spain and ending up pasted next to posters of the CGT and CNT.

18. Mecca Normal’s I Walk Alone picked as one of 5 songs on a playlist for Riot Grrrl: Canada, curated by artists, and musicians who were part of the original movement. Created for Alien She, the first exhibition to examine the legacy of Riot Grrrl. As well, Tobi Vail picked Beaten Down as song of the day.on her Twitter.

19. Watching Wendy Atkinson get awarded Presenter of the Year by The BC Touring Council.

20. I like this inspired overview of the state of music by Randall Roberts in the Los Angeles Times: “‘No Cities to Love’ (Sleater-Kinney), to me, feels like the most recent chapter, informed by the spirit of 45s, cassette mix-tapes, ideas spread through list-servs and MP3s, secrets screamed and whispered, stories inked on lyric sheets and in song. It’s Kim Gordon repeating “fear of a female planet” in “Kool Thing.” It’s Patti Smith in “Break It Up”: “I ripped my skin open and then I broke through.” It’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” as delivered by Poly Styrene. It’s Bikini Kill, the Slits, Beth Ditto, PJ Harvey, Mecca Normal, Meg White, Mish Way, Meredith Graves, a glorious continuum that’s more crucial to rock’s present and future than the collected work of U2, Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins combined.”

21. The British Library orders a copy of Mecca Normal’s Empathy for the Evil.


November, 2015: Took time to research Emma Goldman in the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.

November, 2015: Just sent off corrected pages for my graphic story on The Battle of Ballantyne Pier. This 12-page comic will be a chapter in Drawn to Change: Graphic Histories of Working-Class Struggle (Between the Lines, 2016), an anthology of nine comics, each with a short preface by an academic or specialist on Canadian labour history and working-class struggles. The book was initiated by the Graphic History Collective.

David Lester’s TOP 16 Mecca Normal MOMENTS of 2014:

1. Playing with Tobi Vail’s Spider & the Webs and Calvin Johnson’s (K Records) band The Hive Dwellers in Portland at the Red and Black, an Industrial Workers of the World run cafe.

2. Having my poster included in “Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher” at the 2014 Whitney Biennial – an exhibit curated by Marc Fischer at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

3. Catching up with Todd P at Trans Pecos in Queens, New York just before opening for Mount Eerie.

4. Being thrilled that Jean Smith now has a literary agent.

5. With great relief, paddling ashore after playing in a row boat on Lake Washington for Clyde Petersen’s show, Boating With Clyde.

6. Playing the Unknown Music Series in Anacortes, WA, organized by Phil Elverum and Geneviève Castrée.

7. The exhilaration of working with Jean as she created the words and vocal to the songs, “Anguish / Misogyny” and “The Ferry To The Launch”.

8. Looking up at the sky as we played in Patrick Maley’s back yard in Olympia (at least until the mosquitoes swarmed us).

9. Ripping into the first box of the new Mecca Normal album sent by Fiona and Brett at M’lady’s Records to start our eastern tour in Queens, New York.

10. Waking up in New Jersey at 6:00 a.m. in order to beat the traffic and get parking in Manhattan for an interview on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman.

11. Playing to an inspired audience at The Back Alley Theatre in DC, organized by Gideon L. Jaguar and Amanda Maude. Great to meet and see Laughing Man play!!

12. Meeting Dan Traeger, who came to our rescue by on-the-spot storing of Mecca Normal merch after a show in Seattle.

13. Playing our last show of the year in Vancouver with Mirah who did a fantastic set.

14. Watching as Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) cuts from her interview with Anita Sarkeesian, to play our song “Anguish / Misogyny” over visuals illustrating rampant violence against women and misogyny in video games.

15: The pleasure of watching 75 Dollar Bill (Rick Brown, Che Chen, Sue Garner) create music on our eastern US dates. Playing with them at Troost, along with Arrington de Dionyso and it was an especially fun show because we got to meet up with Madigan Shive, Tae Won Yu, Franklin Bruno, Bob Banister, Tara L. Key, and so many others.

16. Jean making espresso on a hot plate in a New Jersey motel at the start of another day on tour. 30 years of espresso and creativity!

MECCA NORMAL performing in Vancouver at the Wrong Wave Festival, 2014. Photo by Moni Habib

MECCA NORMAL performing in Vancouver at the Wrong Wave Festival, 2014. Photo by Moni Habib

David Lester’s rock duo MECCA NORMAL’s 2014 shows included: NYC Todd P show (Trans-Pecos) with Mount Eerie. NYC (le poisson rouge) with Mount Eerie. Providence (AS220) with Thalia Zedak Band and $75 Dollar Bill. Philly (Tea Room). Boston (Lillypad), Wash, DC (Back Alley), Hudson, NY (John Doe Records). Easthampton, MA (Flywheel). Wrong Wave Festival (Vancouver). Media Club with Mirah (Vancouver).

Click HERE for Mecca Normal’s up to date TOUR info.
Click HERE for a selection of reviews of Empathy for the Evil.

Mecca Normal on Democracy Now

See Mecca Normal on Democracy Now
(New York) performing two songs and being interviewed by Amy Goodman.

MECCA NORMAL’sEmpathy for the Evil cover art new album Empathy for the Evil comes out September 17, 2014 on M’lady’s Records. To pre-order the album click HERE.

“M’lady’s Records is thrilled to announce the upcoming release of the first new album in eight years from one of our favorite groups: MECCA NORMAL. Jean Smith and David Lester have once again rang the alarm, with nine new pieces that form an exquisite song cycle, the lyrics of which are distilled from two of Jean’s recently-completed novels – one of which is being shopped around to major publishers by a literary agent. Mecca Normal’s art and music has blown minds around the world for many years now, inspiring people to rattle punk orthodoxy as well as injecting a much-needed blast of intelligence, poise, and imagination into the sometimes listless underground discourse.”

Inspired-Agitator-#18Malachi (18 x 28″ poster) by Mecca Normal guitarist David Lester is included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. The exhibition also includes a recording of a live set performed by underground rock duo Mecca Normal, and the cover of the Mecca Normal 7″ record that includes the song Malachi about war protester Malachi Ritscher. The painting on the record cover is called Discovering Utopia by Mecca Normal vocalist Jean Smith. These three artifacts are part of Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher – an exhibit curated by Chicago’s Marc Fischer about American activist and music documentarian Malachi Ritscher (1954 – 2006) who self-immolated on a freeway median outside of Chicago to protest the war in Iraq. Ritscher made a video of this action that was not widely seen. Full details here.


“Malachi” poster by David Lester at 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC

David Lester talks about the new graphic novel he’s working on. Still in the research stage, David is pulling together several story threads, including details of political activist Emma Goldman‘s years in Toronto at the end of her life.

September 16, 2014: David Lester’s rock duo MECCA NORMAL releases their 13th album Empathy for the Evil on M’lady’s records. They will be on tour in July, Sept and October.

2014: David Lester’s 12-page comic The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is published on the Graphic History Project website in Vancouver.

In June, 2014, panels of David Lester‘s comic The Battle of Ballantyne Pier is displayed as part of Educate! Illustrate! Organize! Working-class and Labour History Through Comics, a 3 month exhibit curated by Graphic History Collective member Robin Folvik (Cumberland Museum and Archives). The exhibit was in conjunction with the Pacific Northwest Labour History Association and Miners’ Memorial Weekend.


“The Battle of Ballantyne Pier” pages, Cumberland Museum and Archives, 2014

David Lester is working on a graphic novel about the life of feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman: Helen and Eric have been paired up to write and illustrate a graphic novel about Emma Goldman’s life as an anarchist and feminist and her final year, lived in Toronto. Coming from different political perspectives makes it difficult for Helen and Eric to agree on how much should be revealed about the controversial political activist’s private affairs. As tension between the creative partners grows, Emma’s stubborn nature surfaces in the research, influencing the proceedings to the point where Emma herself dictates a course of action from beyond the grave.

AEC-CESA-Conference-Program-2013David Lester‘s graphic novel The Listener was presented by Karen Jacobson at a conference, October 24th, 2013, at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) in a session called Promoting Social Justice and Belonging in the Classroom with Canadian Literature. It was all part of The Association For Canadian Studies & The Canadian Ethnic Studies Association 4th Joint Annual Conference: Transforming Citizenship: Ethnicity, Transnationalism & Belonging in Canada.

Karl Blau covered the Mecca Normal song THIS MACHINE for his album of songs written by women of the West Coast entitled “West Coast Chalice.” 2013

David Lester and Jean Smith‘s weekly collaboration of text/art for Magnet Magazine reached #200 in January, 2013.

In 2013, THE LISTENER was taught in two high schools in Alberta, Including Eastglen High School in Edmonton after it was selected for a research project called Engaging Teachers with Canadian Literature for Social Justice funded by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The other high school introduced THE LISTENER alongside the graphic novels Skim and Stitches.

October 2013: UNDAUNTED: The Best of BC BookWorld (Ronsdale Press) with cover design by David Lester, plus 20 of his cartoons, and his review of “The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust” by Heather Pringle.

David Lester and Jean Smith (Mecca Normal) presented their writing and music at Kevin Chong‘s creative writing class at the University of British Columbia on January 29, 2013.

David Lester‘s duo MECCA NORMAL recorded a new album with legendary producer Kramer in Florida in November, 2012.

PM Press published Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection which includes a page of comics by David Lester.

Mecca Normal TOUR updates

2012 NEWS:

September 1 – 30, 2012The Black Dot Museum of Political Art pops up at Northern All Ages in Olympia, Washington for the month of September. The exhibition will feature art by David LesterJean Smith and characters from Jean’s recently completed novel by the same name.

Saturday, September 8, 2012: Mecca Normal opens for Chain & the Gang in Vancouver (Waldorf).

Sunday, September 30, 2012, 2 p.m.: Mecca Normal will be presented by CUPE Local 391 at Word On The Street (Vancouver).

Saturday, October 6, 2012: Performance event: The Listener graphic novel by David Lester – MECCA NORMAL guitar-player turned author-illustrator. Jean Smith talks about her new novel, Obliterating History – a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage. Mecca Normal performs. Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, WA.

October 7, 2012: Portland, OR: Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center

October 8, 2012: Salem, OR: Willamette University

October 10, 2012: David Lester and Jean Smith will both be reading at LitQuake in San Francisco as part of the Radar Reading Series at the SF Main Public Library. Mecca Normal will be on tour on the west coast at that time.

Saturday, October 13, 3:00 p.m. Los Angeles. Echo Park Film Center lecture.

October 13, 2012: Los Angeles, CA: Human Resources LA

October 19, 2012: Olympia, WA: Evergreen State College: Jean and David present “How Art & Music Can Change the World”.

November 8: Miami – Churchill’s Pub

November 9: Ft Lauderdale – Radio-Active Records in-store

November 17, 2012: Vancouver, BC: MECCA NORMAL will be playing Broken Pencil’s CanZine West, Festival of Zines and Independent Culture (Vancouver at W2).

November 17, 2012: Vancouver, BC: Jean Smith will be part of the The Real Vancouver Writers’ Series (W2 Media Cafe, Vancouver).

My duo MECCA NORMAL is currently working on some great new songs.

2012: THE LISTENER was a finalist for ForeWord Reviews 2011 Book Of The Year Award in the graphic novel category.

The Listener was one of five books, including Maus and Persepolis, that were singled out by The Canadian Museum for Human Rights because the books dealt with “human rights issues and struggles past and present.” 2012

Photo from the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

Jean Smith and David Lester giving presentation at the University of British Columbia.

January 31, 2012: The Listener is presented by David Lester and Jean Smith at Kevin Chong‘s Creative Writing class (University of British Columbia). Photo by Kevin Chong.

June, 2012: David Lester is part of a School of Communication panel on Magazine Publishing, CMNS375, along with Kevin McKeown and instructor Bob Mercer (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver).

January 30, 2012: The Listener is selected as book of the week by the Toronto Public Library system.

“We have David Lester’s wonderful book at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library + Archives. If you are in the Cleveland area come give it a look!” — Laura Moody, Libraian, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, OH) 2012

David Lester‘s painting “A New World in Oue Hearts” is published on the cover of THE GLOBAL EDUCATOR, a teacher’s magazine devoted to peace and social justice issues. 2012

John K. Samson of The Weakerthans picks Mecca Normal‘s presentation of THE LISTENER as one of the TOP 10 shows he saw in 2011.

David Lester interviewed in Amplitude Equals One Over Frequency Squared (PA) 2012

Alternative Magazine (UK) selected THE LISTENER as one of the best graphic novels of 2011.

January 24, 2012: David Lester reads and shows art from his graphic novel THE LISTENER as part of the W2 Real Vancouver Writers’ & Culture Series. W2’s Media Cafe (Vancouver, BC). Also reading: Angie Abdou, Zsuzsi Gartner, Ayelet Tsabari, Arley McNeney, Garry Thomas Morse, and Jen Neale.

AK Press Distribution ranked The Listener as #4 on its list of top 10 bestselling books of 2011.

Largehearted Boy (music/literature blog, Brooklyn, NY) selected The Listener as one of its favourite graphic novels of 2011: “These are the six graphic novels I have most recommended to friends, family, and anyone else who has crossed my path this year. David Lester’s The Listener is one of the year’s most impressive graphic novels. This compelling book offers an insightful glimpse into the Nazi party’s 1933 election in Germany as well as the connection between modern art and politics.”

Monday Magazine (Victoria, BC) picked The Listener as one of the best Books of 2011.

David Lester, author of THE LISTENER and guitarist in rock duo Mecca Normal, whose most recent record release “Malachi” (K Records) was selected by Tobi Vail for her list of Best of 2011, in Artforum Magazine (New York).

The Hidden Cameras cover Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver” for the Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995 compilation. The song was recorded at St. Mary Aldermary church in London, England, 2011. All proceeds from the CD comp go to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Brett Lyman (M’Lady’s Records) picked his top 10 of 2011 in Jigsaw: Best 7” of the year that wasn’t on M’lady’s: Mecca Normal “Malachi” b/w “Blue Sky With Branches” (K Records).

THE LISTENER goes into a 2nd printing, October, 2011.

Read a comprehensive interview with David Lester on the UK’s Alternative Magazine Online. 2011

North by Northwest interview with David Lester on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) radio (August 20, 2011).

The Listener is presented at Word On The Street (Vancouver, Sunday, September 25, 2011). The Listener performance adaptation by Jean Smith, includes Mecca Normal. David also signs his book at Word Under The Street.

The Listener was selected as one of the best books of 2011, so far, by the School Library Journal (New York).

The Globe & Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) profiles David Lester and The Listener. 2011

THE LISTENER reviewed in Crack Magazine (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK);  Alternative Magazine (Liverpool, UK), the World’s Strongest Librarian (West Valley City, UT), and by Les Wiseman in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC).

A page from THE LISTENER is featured in Geist Magazine (summer issue, 2011).

Deanna Radford writes her observations on the Montreal presentation/book launch of THE LISTENER: Suoni Per Il Popolo blog (Montreal, PQ) 2011

UMFM University of Manitoba, interview with David Lester. 2011

CKUT Montreal, interview with David Lester and Jean Smith. 2011

The Listener – #45 on the TOP 100 list of bestsellers in themes books in late June and ranked #13 on the All-Canadian Top 30 Comics Bestseller List for June (Book Manager). 2011

David Lester’s graphic design (posters, album covers) is featured in Talk – Action = O An Illustrated History of D.O.A. by Joe Keithley (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2011) .

David Lester and Jean Smith presented a performance adaptation by Jean Smith that includes Mecca Normal to a Creative Writing class at the University of British Columbia. 2011

David Lester reads from The Listener at Spartacus Books in Vancouver. 2011

Jean Smith put together a film about the Book Lauch Tour. 2011

“I would like to recommend David and his performance partner Jean Smith who gave an incredibly dynamic, introspective and involving presentation – a slide show, music, monologues with a sense of humour. His presentation would be absolutely perfect for teens especially.” – Cameron Ray, Youth Services Specialist at North York Public Library. 2011

Book signing in Vancouver, May 15, 2011

David Lester Author Page





The Listener by David Lester (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2011) $19.95, ISBN: 9781894037488

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